More than 60 people gathered in the Aspen Room at City Hall on Sunday, Feb. 25, to review and provide feedback on Vancouver’s new Culture, Arts, and Heritage Plan, expected to be adopted by the City on April 16. Attendees included members of the arts community, arts organizations, and those who participated in Arts of Clark County’s Arts and Culture Summit last fall.

Before the end of March, Vancouver’s Program and Policy Development Manager Jan Bader and City Neighborhood Liaison and Communications Manager Carol Bua, who both led Sunday’s event, will give more than a dozen similar presentations to key community stakeholders for their review and feedback.

The plan was developed for the City by consultants BDS Planning with support from Framework and community input and assistance from an advisory board representing a variety of local arts, culture, and heritage-related interests. The resulting draft outlines three policy areas or “elements” plus specific objectives and 51 individual actions.

At Sunday’s event, attendees broke into three focus groups facilitated by Bader and Bua along with the plan’s executive board members Tracy Fortmann, Superintendent for the National Park Service’s Fort Vancouver National Historic Site; Maureen Montague, Executive Director of Columbia Springs; and consultants Noel Frame, with BDS; and Lesley Bain, with Frameworks to discuss objectives and potential actions under each of the plan’s three elements: (1) Building Capacity of the Cultural Sector; (2) Cultural Focus – Strengthen Vancouver’s Cultural Core; and (3) Expand Cultural Space. There were many insights, ideas, and thoughtful discussions on each topic.

All attendees reconvened to hear words of encouragement from Mayor McEnerny-Ogle, followed by facilitator recaps of the group discussions. Important highlights were the necessity of strong leadership and the hiring of two full-time staff to coordinate and champion the City’s cultural programs. There were many practical ideas that both supported and built upon the plan’s objectives.

The draft plan addresses numerous other issues, including the feasibility of different funding mechanisms available to the City for supporting new programs and facilities as well as the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities associated with public and private sector cultural assets and activities. The plan also identifies sites for new public arts facilities, both physical and experiential.

It’s worth noting that at the outset of the meeting, there was mention of the City’s 2017 Community Survey and how, among respondents, “supporting arts and culture” unfortunately received a low priority ranking. But several attendees in the focus groups noted that “arts and culture” in a list of possible priorities is not as tangible as other public investments like fire, police, and streets that are visible and that residents have experience with.

Where investment already exists, people know it, love it, want to protect it, and possibly even want more of it. But with little or no visibility of an investment in arts and culture, people won’t have the direct experience to recognize that we are talking about creating the conditions that encourage a vibrant community with many arts, music, and cultural amenities that lead to an active streetscape and ultimately a thriving economy.

Arts of Clark County wholeheartedly applauds what the City is proposing in the Culture, Arts, and Heritage Plan while we also recognize that there is a perpetual need to “sell” the economic value of arts and culture when so much today competes for the City’s attention.